VR headsets are the reason this site is here. Although VR has been around for decades, a series of technological breakthroughs and market shifts have turned VR systems from unaffordable and uncomfortable monsters to consumer-grade hardware devices that are practical to own and actually a pleasure to use.
That doesn’t mean that these headsets are cheap or mature yet. This is still early days for consumer VR, so there’s a lot of learning to do, and many penalties and mistakes that early adopters can still make if they are not careful.
What’s a VR Headset Anyway?
It may seem obvious, but people use the term VR head-mounted display (HMD) rather loosely sometimes. A VR HMD is a device worn over the face that blocks out all external light and vision. Usually it also blocks out sound, with a set of headphones that can either be separate or integrated into the unit itself.
The HMD will contain some form of miniature display technology that beams imagery to the user’s eyes. Almost all modern VR HMDs use small high-resolution flat-panel displays – either taking one and having it display a split screen image with one half going to each eye, or just having one screen for each eye. These screens are derived from the same technology that our smartphone screens use, but are often of a better quality to meet the demands of VR.
Apart from these displays, there is an optical system that allows your eyes to focus without strain on a screen that is mere inches from your face, helping things appear natural and fill a larger part of your field of vision than they otherwise would.
These optics are usually adjustable for the distance between each person’s eyes and correct the focal length for each eye – something that’s useful for people who need to wear glasses. Some headsets simply fit over your existing eyeglasses.
There will also be some form of head motion tracking built into the headset, using onboard motion sensors, external optical trackers, or a mix of both.
Getting Your Head in the Game
The modern VR revolution is being driven strongly by the gaming industry as well as social media giants. A lot of the content that you’ll find is purely for entertainment purposes, but the rise in better consumer VR has also had an effect on professional VR. After all, they do say that the rising tide lifts all boats.
That’s why I’ll also be looking at commercial VR solutions as well in this section. After all, we regular folk may not be able to afford the professional stuff yet, but it can be a window into what may be coming to our humble homes in the future.
Honestly, when I write about those sorts of systems it’s with the same point of view as a car magazine writer going on about the newest Ferrari. I’m never going to own one, but the technology itself is just so darn interesting.
I’ve split VR hardware and VR software into their own categories, which means that I won’t be talking about the actual VR games and experiences here unless it’s somehow related to hardware directly. Even with this main split down the middle, there’s a lot that falls under the label of “VR headset”, so expect a bit of diversity.
I will be covering all three main types of VR headset in this section, by which I mean mobile VR systems, standalone VR headsets, and the premium tethered models that everyone really wants. There are now, however, hundreds of VR headsets of various types on the market, so I’ll concentrate on those that are important, worth buying, or just interesting in some way.
Rocking All Over the World
It’s worth noting that you should always check whether a particular headset that you’re reading about is in fact available for shipping to your country. There’s often some weird geographic issue with certain headsets, and when you have to start looking at grey imports then all sorts of complications add up.
Strap On and Ship Out
My goal with this section is that by the time you’ve gone through it you’ll know what a VR headset is, how it works, and what the best deals and options are for your needs and budget. We’re also going to spend quite a bit of time discussing the future of VR and all the interesting things that can come from this revived technology. So get ready for a virtually great time!